On July 2, 2014, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (“PCLOB”) held a public meeting to finalize the release of a report concluding that the National Security Agency’s (“NSA’s”) collection of electronic communications from targets reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons located outside the United States has operated lawfully within its statutory limitations.
The collection program, implemented under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, came under increased scrutiny following Edward Snowden’s disclosures in June 2013. In response to requests from Congress and the White House, PCLOB conducted an extensive study of government surveillance and the NSA’s program on the bulk collection of consumer phone records. As we previously reported in January 2014, PCLOB released a report on the collection of phone records, ostensibly conducted pursuant to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. That report concluded that the NSA’s Section 215 program exceeded its statutory parameters.
With respect to the collection program for non-U.S. persons, the July 2014 report finds that:
“[T]he information the program collects has been valuable and effective in protecting the nation’s security and producing useful foreign intelligence. The program has operated under a statute that was publicly debated, and the text of the statute outlines the basic structure of the program. Operation of the Section 702 program has been subject to judicial oversight and extensive internal supervision, and [PCLOB] has found no evidence of intentional abuse.”
The report also indicates that certain elements of the program’s implementation raise privacy concerns, including “the scope of the incidental collection of U.S. persons’ communications and the use of queries to search the information collected under the program for the communications of specific U.S. persons.” The report recommends policy changes to strengthen safeguards and address these issues.